Saturday, June 27, 2015

Don't Take the Bait! Pauline's Valedictory Message

The following is taken from the homily I preached at the Mass that ended the year for the students of St. Anthony’s Elementary School, at which we bade farewell to the grade seven students.  It is posted here with the kind permission of Pauline Correa, who generously shared her text with me.
Father Gary, Father Xavier, Mrs. Maravillas, parents and grandparents, teachers, staff, students, and most particularly our grade sevens:
How many of you know the expression “take a walk down memory lane”?
Maybe some of you are just too young for that walk!   But the grade sevens, at least, know what I am talking about. They’ll be taking that walk after lunch, as they watch a video that captures many memories of their time at St. Anthony’s School.
But last night I did something different—I was invited to take a swim down memory lane!
I was at the graduation ceremonies for St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Pauline Correa was the valedictorian for this year’s graduating class—a student chosen to speak to her classmates and on behalf of her classmates.
Pauline called it a “swim” down memory lane because “high school is very much like the ocean.  It is vast and intimidating and yet dauntingly beautiful. Shiny and bright on the surface, but even more beautiful when one dives into its depths.”
She remembered her first day in grade eight when she “said a little prayer and took the plunge.” 
Her speech said fascinating things about high school, using images of tides, and floating …. and keeping your head above water.
Pauline’s images were clever and interesting. Then all of a sudden the speech made us sit up straight in our chairs.  It turned into one of the simplest parables I’ve heard outside of the Bible.
“High school is like the ocean,” she repeated. It’s beautiful and wonderful, but you can also drown in it. You can get lost in the dark depths of it.
“And that is why we need God,” Pauline said.
“God is the sunlight.” He is the oxygen we long for and need to survive.
 What a fantastic idea, I thought. You need an air supply to swim under water, and God provides it.
But then Pauline really hooked me. “It is so easy for us to fall for the bait,” she said, “but we must focus on what is important.”
Fall for the bait! Isn’t that the greatest risk a Christian faces—the greatest risk a young Christian faces? The world’s bait of false fun, fake happiness, and conformity to the crowd?
If there is one prayer I have for this fine group of grade sevens, which I have watched grow and mature both in mind and spirit, it’s that you don’t take the bait—that you recognize the things that lure you away from God in whom all true happiness is found.
Pauline gave bold advice to her friends: go to the light. Swim towards the sun. It’s the sun that fuels the water, the sun that gives us strength.
“For without God,” she warned, “nothing is possible.”
What’s true at STA is true at SAS. He has taken you this far, and as high school looms you need to take a deep breath and trust in him.
          I leave you with the words St. Paul wrote to his student St. Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, in conduct, in love and in faith.”
          May your high schools be better places because St. Anthony students are swimming in their oceans, with Christian courage and commitment.

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